Ben Rowe, Press-Republican - February 14, 2015
Here’s a rare sentimental disability story that I actually enjoyed reading.
I’ve written before about the mixed messages sent by stories of paralyzed people going to great lengths to “walk” down the aisle at their weddings. What bothers me most about them isn’t that some people want to do it. The real problem is that disabled people who choose instead to wheel down the aisle ... like they wheel everywhere else in their lives ... don’t get heartwarming newspaper stories written about them. Meanwhile, the people who do go to Herculean efforts to walk a few steps are portrayed as heroes, while their voices, and the stories of their everyday lives tend to get short shrift.
That’s partly why I liked this story about Michaela, a young woman who lives in my neck of the woods, who I’ve met and know a little bit. It helps that I know her, of course, and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t spend 24-7 pining after a cure. At any rate, she reserves at least some of her time and energy for actual living, working, and of course loving. The story starts with her walk, but quickly becomes about Michaela and Kyle. It doesn't ignore her disability, or minimize it, but puts it into context. The story is really about more than her walk down the aisle. It is about Michaela and Kyle’s relationship, affected and given unique shape by her disability, but in other ways quite typical.
The story is heartwarming without for a moment being maudlin. We hear more from Michaela and Kyle than we do from parents, therapists, or the journalist. These are rare qualities in human interest journalism focused on disabled people. It’s even more admirable from a small-town newspaper, when so-called giants of journalism regularly give us much worse.
Above all, I’m left with an important reminder, that these stories of “recovery” are also part of disability culture, in that they are important to many disabled people. The issue we sometimes have about these stories is how they are reported, and whose voices are and aren’t heard. The stories themselves are fine, and deserve to be told.